Constitutionality of Telangana Heritage Act questioned


Hyderabad: A two judge bench of the Telangana High Court comprising Chief Justice Raghavendra Singh Chauhan and Justice Shameem Akther, on Tuesday, heard inconclusive arguments in the batch of Public Interest Litigations filed against the proposed demolition of Erram Manzil.

Niroop Reddy, counsel for one of the petitioners, questioned the constitutionality of the Telangana Heritage Act, 2017. Terming the Act “a fraud on the Constitution”, he placed before the court the legislative history with regards to preservation of heritage structures, and how the present Act flies in the face of the older enactments which were still in the statute books. The Urban Arts Commission and the Heritage Conservation Committee, two bodies empowered by the law to identify and protect heritage buildings, according to Niroop Reddy, have not been in existence for the past 19 years. But in 1995, a list was prepared by these committees, recommending 165 buildings which were deserving a ‘heritage’ status, and subsequently, 137 of those buildings were accepted as ‘heritage’, one of them being the palace in question.

He complained that in 2015, strangely, these lists were declared inconsistent with the law prevailing then, and in 2017, the list was completely abandoned by the new Heritage Act. In fact, he pointed out, that the new list which features in the Act, contains monuments which do not exist. “The government cannot be listless about lists”, Niroop Reddy complained.

The Chief Justice, speaking for the bench, asked Niroop Reddy if the court had the power to direct the state to either include new entries to the existing list in the Act, or constitute a fresh Heritage Conservation Committee. Relying on a Karnataka High Court judgement from 1985, Niroop Reddy answered in the affirmative. He pointed out that in 1985 Justice Venkatachaliah (later Chief Justice of India), had observed with poetic flourish, that in a government by law, there is nothing like an unreviewable executive discretion.

The Karnataka High Court had observed that the concern of law was the primordial need to discipline power and prevent its abuse, and that all powers have legal limits. Owing to paucity of time, Niroop Reddy was asked to submit the rest of his arguments in writing, and the hearing was adjourned to Wednesday.